UPDATE: In response to requests for clarification from The Student, a spokesperson for the University reiterated the statement below and added: “We will be providing clear and accessible information on our support for students and staff by early December.”
The University of Edinburgh has changed its tuition classifications to treat asylum seekers as home students, The Student has confirmed.
The change makes them eligible to pay Scottish domiciled tuition fees instead of international ones. Scottish domiciled students pay £1,800 a year, compared to £14,000 for international students.
In a statement to The Student last week, a university spokesperson said: “The University of Edinburgh would like to clarify that asylum seekers, children of asylum seekers, and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, who meet our entry requirements, will be eligible to pay the equivalent of the Scottish domiciled tuition fee level whilst their application is under consideration by the Home Office, provided they have proof that an application for asylum in the UK has been made.”
Following a petition requesting that the University “stop excluding asylum seekers”, representatives from the advocacy group Equal Access Edinburgh Uni met with Alan Mackay, Deputy Vice-Principal International and Director of the International Office, to discuss exactly how the University would be accommodating those seeking asylum in Britain.
Urte Macikene, Vice President Services for Edinburgh University Student’s Assocation (EUSA), signed the petition and attended the meeting on Friday morning. Speaking to The Student, she said: “Alan Mackay confirmed that the university’s approach going forward will be to treat asylum seekers as home students for fees purposes.”
However, it was unclear whether the statements were backed up by official policy, Macikene told The Student.
She said: “We were unable to clarify, despite our efforts, whether this entails an official change in policy or an informal agreement as there is currently nothing on the website about this nor has there been an official announcement.
“If this is the case, I’d be thrilled, but I would like to see the policy officially clarified on the university’s website.”
However, guaranteeing equal access entails more than just charging asylum seekers Scottish home fees, activists argue.
Home students are still required to pay a £1,820/year fee unless they are given access to Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) funding, which at the moment asylum seekers are not eligible for.
Macikene remarked: “It is crucial that asylum seekers are given access to support funding through SAAS to truly enable them to access higher education. I will be lobbying the Scottish Government on this issue, and have raised it with the principal, who expressed support.
“The International Office also intends to propose a policy before the end of the year which would allow for asylum seekers to receive fee waivers at the discretion of the principal of the university.”
But Macikene said that the policy must stop distinguishing between asylum seekers and those with refugee status when deciding on who is able to receive government funding.
She commented: “Most if not all universities in Scotland have had a long-standing policy that those with full refugee status are granted home fees status and access to full government support funding.
“The new approach would extend home fees status to anyone who has submitted an initial asylum claim, regardless of what stage in the process they are at.”
Many see SAAS funding as the best solution to cover housing and home fees for asylum seekers in Scotland.
In summarising the results of the meeting, Macikene stated: “The International Office was supportive of a much greater level of scholarship funding from the university which would allow for applications from asylum seekers, refugees, and all international students for living costs and student support.”
Image: Boon Low